In Nur’s Wake: Humility, Compassion, an Eagerness to Learn

The gibbons sing their howls. Motorbikes zoom by. ASRI Clinic hosts a few in-patients. The “plastics” truck eases by with its familiar tune, calling customers. Sun beats down as the morning breeze all but disappears. A day like any other and most, except that after three years, Dr. Nur Chandra Bunawan (Dr. Nur) departed ASRI yesterday amid tears and joy and, yes, trepidation to gain his residency in Internal Medicine.

Nur (at left) and other doctors & volunteers at ASRI, Spring 2012.

Nur (at left) and other doctors & volunteers at ASRI, Spring 2012.

In February 2012, I first met ASRI and Dr. Nur. He was a young, lean and tall, wide-eyed doctor just out of Indonesian medical school. Upon arrival, he was also now a member of a growing group of Indonesian doctors learning under the tutelage of Dr. Kinari Webb and a handful of American medical volunteers who had stepped in to fill a void left when she was stung and nearly died from a box jellyfish sting in July 2011. In the States we might say it was trial by fire and Dr. Nur walked through it with humility, grace, an eagerness to learn, and a fierce determination to be the best doctor he could be. Those qualities shone forth from the man I embraced three years later, just 5 weeks ago and who would be leaving ASRI on March 28.

I’ll never forget the last day in 2012 that I was at ASRI. Kinari had wanted to share the hospital plans and arranged a presentation but had asked if I’d come over to her house a little earlier. Walking back to her bedroom, I found Dr. Christina Fitch (then an HIH Board member) and Dr. Nur huddled over a portable sonogram machine and Kinari. It was an oddly quintessential teaching moment and would set the tone for the next 2 ½ years as there was not a teaching second that Dr. Nur missed whether it was at Kinari’s bedside, a patient’s bedside with one of the many American medical volunteers that would filter through, on a distant mobile clinic, or engaging with and teaching American medical volunteers about TB.

Nur buys rice in the United States. Can't go without an Indonesian staple!

Nur buys rice in the United States. Can't go without an Indonesian staple!

As it became clear that Dr. Kinari would need time to regain her own health, ASRI found in Dr. Nur an effective medical leader who was also always quick with a warm and brilliant smile, and patience. By September 2012, with great thanks to Dr. Kathleen White, Dr. Ewen Wang, Dr. Bob Rohrbaugh, Dr. Ashgar Rastagar, and many others, plans were in place for a fellowship that would combine concentrated weeks at Yale and a brief stint at Stanford for Dr. Nur. Meeting up with him again in October 2012, we tabled together at the World Wildlife Fund’s gig in San Francisco, giving us a stretch of time to reflect on his experience in the US.  Not unlike ourselves and the volunteers that spend 6 weeks here at ASRI, food, weather and toilets ranked high on the list of strange oddities! And never, never enough rice! (Dr. Nur is legendary for how much rice he can and does eat!) Our time felt like a precious pearl and when we said goodbye, I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d see him again – but then that is frequently true for all those who cross our paths.

But our paths did cross again and when I returned to ASRI this time, I found in Dr. Nur a man who had become a wise and skilled doctor and a leader of the medical staff. The moment I will never forget from this trip is the evening we gathered for dinner with Dr. Lori and Dr. Karin, the travelers that joined Health In Harmony’s first donor trip, Dr. Jesse, an American Attending Physician who is giving up to six months of his time at ASRI, and Dr. Monica (one of ASRI’s dentists). I asked what Dr. Nur would take away from this time and what he said will stay in my heart and in the hearts of all he has touched for eons.

L to R: Dr. Monica, Etty, Dr. Karin, Dr. Lori, Dr. Jesse, and Dr. Nur (Photo: Michelle Bussard)

L to R: Dr. Monica, Etty, Dr. Karin, Dr. Lori, Dr. Jesse, and Dr. Nur (Photo: Michelle Bussard)

He said he had learned humility and compassion from many of the American medical volunteers but especially from Dr. Jesse as an Attending Physician. Dr. Nur explained that in Indonesia one did not question the decisions or diagnosis of one’s superiors and yet Dr. Jesse had always welcomed, even encouraged, his questioning and inquiry.  Dr. Nur said his time here also inspired in him an great eagerness to learn on-the-job and stay connected through the world-wide portal of global health and the myriad of doctors he was now able to communicate with from his time at Yale and Stanford and with dozens of medical volunteers that he met at ASRI.

We talk about the importance of the world-wide web of biodiversity. Dr. Nur reminds me – and all of us -- about the equal importance of a world-wide web of connections and knowledge that may be abetted by our fascination and dependence on wifi but ultimately starts with 1:1, person-to-person, face-to-face connection.

When Dr. Nur left yesterday, it was clear how deep and irrefutable those connections are here at ASRI as a cycle begins anew of training and bringing young Indonesian doctors into the world-wide web of connection, compassion, humility, and learning. Dr. Nomi and Dr. Yuli will work briefly with Dr. Ron who is also reaching for his residency in Surgery at Sangla Puskasmas in Bali (with deep gratitude to Dr. Lori for sponsoring), with a promise to give ASRI five more years upon completion.  Dr. Vina who is herself now completing the Stanford/Yale circuit will be returning in May. Dr. Jesse will transit back to the US shortly though will already have made plans for his return even as Dr. Krista Farey, another Attending Physician and colleague of Dr. Kinari’s from Contra Costa Medical Clinic arrives for two months.

"We've all been privileged to watch the blossoming of a young doctor into a respected physician, who leaves behind others who will follow this same path."

And while the choreography of medical practice in Sukadana continues, what I’m left with is this in the wake of Dr. Nur’s departure: the very same qualities that he said he’d gained from his time here: humility, compassion, an eagerness to learn, connect and communicate were already innate within him but at ASRI given ground to ripen. As I write, a lump rises from my heart and tears sting the corners of my eye. I will miss Dr. Nur, though not as much others who have had the honor of working side-by-side with him. Still, I know we’ve been all been privileged to watch the blossoming of a young doctor into a respected physician, who leaves behind others who will follow this same path. It is the magic of what happens here when good people gather for good cause.

These are the same good people that will lead and staff ASRI’s new Community Health and Training Center.  Will you help us make that dream come true?

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About Michelle Bussard | View all posts by Michelle Bussard

Michelle is the Executive Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.